Photographed by Irving Penn / Vogue Magazine, 2002
This acne awareness month we want to focus on a type of acne that gets less attention than its facial cousin: body acne. Most commonly found on your back, it can also be present on your chest, arms, neck, and even your scalp. Basically, wherever you have skin, you can get acne. Unlike facial acne which is consistently targeted by skincare brands promising their product will banish pimples and reduce scaring, body acne tends to be left behind. We want to cast some light on the condition, and help you figure out how you can switch up your routine to manage your breakouts. We’ve spoken to celebrity ‘skin therapist’ and founder of West Hollywood’s N4 Skincare, Natalie Aguilar, to get the inside track on how to help your skin feeling fabulous and looking its best.
Is it body acne or something else?
If you’ve got pimples on your body and you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of them, the first thing to do is figure out what they actually are. There are lots of skin concerns, including acne, which can cause you to have whiteheads and pimples on your body so it’s important to figure out what you’re dealing with. Often times, the best way to be sure that what you have is acne is by talking to a dermatologist or a medical aesthtician. They will be able to make sure your pimples are acne and not actually keratosis pilaris or another condition that can look similar.
What causes body acne?
The mechanics of body acne are pretty much the same as for facial acne: your pores get clogged and become inflamed. But unlike acne on your face, body acne can be aggravated by all sorts of products including your shampoo and conditioner, moisturizers, and even some detergents. Genetics will often play a role in determining whether or not you are prone to getting acne on your body, some people will find they suffer from it throughout their life, while others will find they never have to deal with it at all. Hormones can also play a part in body acne, with some people finding theirs flares up during transitional periods such as puberty, pregnancy, and the menopause.
Which ingredients can aggravate body acne?
As important as it is to apply the right skincare, avoiding aggravating ingredients can play an equally crucial role in avoiding breakouts. Natalie Aguilar explains that “shampoos and conditioners can sometimes contain ingredients that can irritate and cause acne. Oftentimes, conditioners contain ingredients that coat and soften the hair follicles only to be rinsed off onto the skin on our neck, back and shoulders. This may cause clogging, itching, and acne for some.”
But hair products aren’t the only potential culprit for aggravating your acne. “Although body wash is intended to make your skin feel clean, ingredients such as parfum, fragrance, colorants as well as high percentages of alcohol can irritate the skin in the form of rashes and acne”, Aguilar adds. “Body cleansers should not leave you feeling dry, itchy, and stripped of moisture. It's important to rinse conditioners on the side and away from one's body as the waxy ingredients, like cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol can also coat the skin causing occlusions.”
Ingredients known to aggravate body acne are:
Fragrance. On the label look for the likes of parfum, perfume, aroma, limonene, eugenol, and more. The best way to avoid these is by buying unscented skincare and haircare products.
Alcohol and fatty alcohols. On the label look for ingredients such as cetyl, stearyl, cetearyl, or lanolin alcohol.
Colorants. On the label look for ingredients including naphthol, lithol, quinoline, and others.
- Parabens. On the label look for ingredients inlcuding propylparaben, benzylparaben, methylparaben, or butylparaben.
How often should you take a shower or bath if you have body acne?
Much like for acne on your face, cleaning is a key part of taking good care of your body acne. As with many skin conditions, it can be confusing trying to figure out if you should bathe more than normal, or try to limit how often you cleanse. In the case of body acne, Aguilar tells us that twice a day is the perfect frequency to cleanse your skin during a breakout: “I recommend showering twice daily with warm water. If tolerable, a quick final rinse under cold water may help with inflammation and redness.”
When it comes to baths, moderation is key. Soaking, particularly when you’re using products that might not be completely acne-friendly can aggravate your skin, however, Aguilar added a caveat, saying you need to put your mental health first,too. “Asking if baths are better or worse than showers for acne-prone skin seems like a trick question as baths are a wonderful form of self-care, because they help to relax and destress the body. Decreasing stress is an important aspect when working on clearing skin, but the temperature, products used, and time in the bath can also play a negative role on the skin.”
So in short, cleanse frequently in the shower, but keep baths to a minimum when you feel like you need a relax in the tub after a stressful week.
Natalie Aguilar’s favorite skincare products for body acne
“This body wash can be used daily and is a non-granular body gel designed to cleanse the skin and help exfoliate dead skin cells. It is an excellent formulation for dry skin, reactive skin, and skin suffering from folliculitis or breakouts. It rinses off well and leaves the skin hydrated.”
“This is my new obsession” Natalie told us. The hydrating formula is designed to support your skin by attracting moisture and protecting your skin from free radicals such as pollution. It’s available in both scented and unscented variations, so you can pick a fragrance-free option to care for your body as well as your face.
“This active mist contains aloe and plant extracts that help to normalize the skin’s acid mantle and is specifically created for acne-prone and oily skin in mind.” The formula works to fight acne-causing bacteria while hydrating skin, and can be used on your body as well as on your face.